Kids' eyesight at risk from poor screeningUp to a third of kids not offered 'expected' tests

28 April 2011

Child eye screening

At least 10% and possibly as many as a third of children in England may be at risk of avoidable and lifelong vision problems going undetected. 

Which? research found that kids aged four to five are not having their vision screened when they start school, despite this being part of a national programme and expected by the Department of Health.

In response to freedom of information requests submitted by Which?, one in ten of 110 primary care trusts (PCTs) told us that they do not arrange to test four-to-five year olds*. But 42 PCTs did not respond to our request – so they may also not be providing this service. 

Even where screening is offered, uptake ranged from 35% to 99% across the 110 PCTs. This points to a postcode lottery when it comes to organising the eye tests and getting parental agreement.

Poor eye test referral rates

Many PCTs were unable to report the number of children who were referred for further testing. Those that could reported referrals between 0% and 39%. 

Eye health expert Professor David Thomson of City University says: ‘Screening is worthless unless those children with problems receive appropriate follow-up treatment – these results suggest huge variation in the quality and management of screening. An estimated 10% to 20% of children are likely to have a significant vision problem that can be detected with a simple three-minute test.'

Underwhelming government response

When we asked the Department of Health what it’s doing to ensure PCTs comply with the national programme, its response was underwhelming. It told us: ‘As part of the Healthy Child Programme, PCTs should be screening four and five year olds for visual impairment. We are aware that some areas are screening more children than others and we are encouraging regional Directors of Public Health to match best practice.’

* FOI responses were for the 2009/10 school year.

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